Time for a Sport Sex-Discrimination Uprising of a Different Sort

By Lopiano, Donna A. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Time for a Sport Sex-Discrimination Uprising of a Different Sort


Lopiano, Donna A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Far too many female athletes and a lesser but significant number of male athletes are victims of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches. The assumption that Title IX's sexual harassment provisions adequately address the problem ignores the fact that fewer than 9 million athletes are competing at the high school (National Federation of State High School Associations, 2011) and college levels (National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2011) and over 44 million young athletes are participating in open amateur sport (National Council of Youth Sports, 2008), an environment where Title IX does not apply and one with far less policy and legal protections. The recent media coverage of male-on-male coach-athlete sexual abuse increases the risk of misleading the public about the nature of this issue. Coach-athlete sexual abuse has a far greater impact on females than males.

Research on the frequency of athlete sexual abuse in the United States is almost nonexistent. However, anecdotal data from news reports abound and represent the proverbial "tip of the iceberg":

* 159 coaches, nearly all male perpetrators abusing girls, in Washington State were fired or reprimanded over the period of a decade for sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to rape (Willmsen & O'Hagan, 2003).

* USA Swimming (2012) declared 64 coaches or others permanently ineligible for membership, with 58 listed as committing code-of-conduct violations.

* USA Gymnastics (2012) declared 84 coaches or others permanently ineligible for membership due to conduct violations.

A noncomprehensive review of news articles in a 30-day period from June to July 2012 (excluding continuing coverage of the Penn State, Syracuse, and AAU cases), reveals additional examples of the breadth of the problem:

* Three male swimming coaches were accused of sexually abusing young female swimmers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California (Kozen, 2012).

* A male boxing coach in California was accused of sexual abuse of a teenage boxing participant (Frere, 2012).

* A male basketball coach in North Carolina agreed to plea for sexually assaulting a female player (O'Donnell, 2012).

* A male soccer coach in Illinois was accused of sexually abusing a young male participant (Potts, 2012).

* A male cheerleading/tumbling coach in Virginia was accused of molesting five female participants (McKelway, 2012).

* A male New Hampshire baseball coach was accused of molesting two boys and one girl (Marchocki, 2012).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

International research on the prevalence of such conduct in nonschool, open, amateur sport is much more extensive, with one of the most respected studies conducted by Leahy, Pretty, and Tanenbaum (2002). Of 370 elite and club level athletes in Australia participating in the study, 31% of females and 21% of males had been sexually abused at some time in their lives, and of these, 41% of the females and 29% of the males reported this abuse to have occurred in the sport environment. The authors concluded that among elite athletes there was a 50% chance of abuse, and among club athletes a 25% chance for abuse. This and other international research reports also have concluded that it is more likely for athlete sexual abuse to involve a male perpetrator and a female victim. Couple this information with the following additional facts:

* Twenty percent of female and 6% of male college students (athletes and nonathletes) were victims of attempted or completed sexual assault and, notably, sexual assault occurs most often when women are incapacitated, primarily due to alcohol (Krebs, Lindquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2007).

* Eighty percent of all college sport teams are coached by males: 57.1% of women's teams are coached by males and 98% of men's teams are coached by males (Acosta & Carpenter, 2012). There is no data to assume that the proportions at the high school level are significantly different. …

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